Right before the students protesting against fee hike were to charge on police personnel for the second time at Panjab University on Tuesday, Damanpreet Singh, campus president of the Students for Society (SFS), a left-wing outfit, exhorted the agitators to resort to protest whichever way they liked.
And what followed was a massive stone-pelting by students in which as many as 22 police personnel were injured. The violence on the PU campus has once again turned the spotlight on the left-wing student outfit (SFS).
As many as 61 students have been arrested so far, with most of them having affiliation with SFS. All campus-based student parties, except SFS, have condemned stone-pelting. Damanpreet, who is absconding since, has maintained that fee hike is a “form of structural violence”.
STARTED AS STUDENT DISCUSSION GROUP
SFS started as a student discussion group in 2010 and is now a strong mobilising force of force at PU. In 2012, the outfit protested against hike in mess charges with its members sitting on a hunger strike for 12 days. In 2013, it organised a four-day hunger strike over fee hike. In 2014 again, it protested for over 20 days against fee hike. The same year, it contested elections by giving chance to a woman research scholar from the English department Amandeep Kaur for the post of president, but she came fourth securing just 1,334 votes.
In 2015, the party raised the issue of alleged sexual harassment of girls on the campus and made a case for a vehicle-free campus. It staged protest for over 12 days and in 2016 it again protested over fee hike for five days. They also protested against rustications, fines, hostel evictions and off-limits imposed on its students by the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration over the Kanhaiya Kumar episode. The repeated raising of student-related issues increased the outfit’s mass base. The party took high moral ground when it refused to contest elections owing to a taunt by a party that they were protesting over the sexual harassment issue just to win elections.
The party would put a large banner with Bhagat Singh’s picture on it in the background during its street plays. Since the campus did not have any party ideologically affiliated to the left, SFS filled that space. The outfit has a good base in the departments of chemical engineering, evening studies and humanities.
SEEMA AZAD EPISODE
It won a battle against the PU authorities and BJP’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), when it brought activist Seema Azad to the campus despite refusal by administration in March this year. Azad, who came disguised as a Sikh woman, addressed the students on the ‘rise of fascism’. The ABVP had maintained that it would “oppose her with swords and sticks”.
ITS PROMINENT FACES
Damanpreet Singh, campus president of SFS, has always been at the forefront of the party’s activities. He has passed out of the chemical engineering department and is presently a student of the English department.
Harman Deep, another prominent SFS leader who is press secretary too, is a law student. He is considered to be privy to all decisions of the party.
A research scholar of history, Amritpal Singh plays tambourine during protests and street plays the party organises. He fought the elections for president’s post of the Panjab University campus students’ council and finished as close third. It was only the second election for the party on the campus.
Aman, a girl student from the French department, has emerged as another face of SFS. On April 6, when she led a girls’ protest at Government College for Girls, Sector 11, she accused policemen of manhandling her. She suffered injuries.
ON TUESDAY VIOLENCE
Soon after violence, talking to HT, Damanpreet said, “Tuesday’s development will strengthen our movement. The issues of fee hike and police brutality will go together. We are not fighting for ourselves only but also for those who would enrol at the varsity in the coming years.”
“We are being denied to pursue our studies further. Our aspirations and dreams are being snatched,” he said.